In what might be named a “Tale of Two Cities”, officials in New York City and Chicago have shut down schools possibly for the rest of the school year in response to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the U.S. and Europe. Illinois’ schools were shut down two days ago with restaurants for inside diners slated to close on Monday. Restaurants in New York may soon follow suit.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Sunday, “To say the least, this is a very troubling moment, a moment where I am just distraught at having to take this action. But I became convinced over the course of today that there was no other choice. We may have to go out for the rest of the school year, we may not have the opportunity to re-open them.”

As of Monday, New York state had 746 confirmed cases and 6 deaths from Covid-19 and the mayor had been under pressure from parents and teachers over his reluctance to close the schools.

De Blasio commented further on the school closings, “It is quite clear that this crisis is growing intensely. This is a decision I have taken with no joy. We’ve never been through anything like this.”

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza added, “We’re at the last resort.” He also spoke directly to the parents and the students, “We want you to think of tomorrow as a snow day. So, everybody stays back.”

In Chicago, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker announced on Sunday, “There are no easy decisions left to make as we address this unprecedented crisis. As your governor, I can't allow the gravity of these decisions from taking the measures that the science and the experts say will keep people safe."

Restaurant employees can still report to work but only for drive-through and pick-up customers who don’t have to enter the building. Dining inside, where “social distancing” practices might be violated, will not be allowed for the time being.

New York postponed its St Patrick's Day parade, which typically attracts two million spectators, for the first time in 250 years
New York postponed its St Patrick's Day parade, which typically attracts two million spectators, for the first time in 250 years AFP / Johannes EISELE

Chicago residents ignored the governor’s and health officials’ warnings as many people spent Saturday in the downtown area to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day a few days early perhaps in anticipation of the announcement. This prompted Pritzker to comment the next day before announcing the mandatory closures.

He said, "I tried earlier this week to appeal to everyone's good judgment to stay home, to avoid bars, not to congregate in crowds. It's unfortunate that many people didn't take that seriously. The time for persuasion and public appeals is over. The time for action is here."

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot backed up the Mayor’s comments saying the city would enforce the measures announced by Pritzker. She said, "I think, and I hope people recognize and understand these decisions are being made for the long-term well-being and health of everyone. If we were to delay the inevitable, we would be putting everyone's health in jeopardy." As of Monday, Illinois had 93 confirmed cases and no deaths reported.

For New York and Chicago, both with large numbers of people of Irish descent and on a day where “everyone is Irish”, March 17 figures to be quite a subdued celebration. This is fine with Mayor Lightfoot who added, "I do not want to see hordes of people out in the streets. The bars will be shut, so please: stay home and be safe.”